Thursday, April 29, 2021

This Burleson Cousin Disagrees About Uncle Rufus

My name is Wade Burleson. I share a great-grandparent (4x) with Dr. Rufus C. Burleson, the two-time President of Baylor University (1851-1861, 1886-1897) and the man responsible for moving Baylor University to Waco, Texas.

Recently, Baylor University’s Commission on Historic Campus Representations recommended that the Baylor campus statue of Rufus Burleson be relocated and the name of Burleson Quadrangle be changed. Baylor has succumbed to the "cancel culture" Marxist movement of Intersectionality and Critical Race Theory. My wife and I met while attending Baylor University, and we would often sit on the benches positioned in Burleson Quadrangle in the evenings talking. 

Two of my distant cousins, Blake and Burt Burleson, both affiliated with Baylor University and the Board of Contributors, wrote "a letter to Uncle Rufus" defending Baylor's decision. I respect my cousins and know they have Christian pastoral hearts and wish to do what is best for the school and for people in general, but I believe affirming the "cancel culture" movement is like a doctor who cuts off the leg of his only child because his brother's child is an amputee and the doctor wishes to be sympathetic with family.

God made peoples from all nations of one blood. We are family. Racism is wrong. But to "remove statues," and "erase the past" because of the sins of our fathers, while consenting to the systemic deconstruction of America's political, religious, and educational institutions, is similar to the citizens of Troy welcoming the Trojan Horse within their walls. What seems innocent, peaceable, and just, is in reality the means by which our nation will be destroyed from within. 

In a friendly spirit of familial love and respect, I disagree with my Burleson cousins' letter affirming canceling Rufus C. Burleson's existence at Baylor University. Their letter is in italics, one paragraph at a time, with my response below each paragraph.


(Burt and Blake write): For nearly 50 years now, we have walked past your statue in Burleson Quadrangle with pride in your providential role (and that of Aunt Georgia) in leading Baylor University and the State of Texas in its early days. Because of your visionary leadership in establishing higher education west of the Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of men and women have graduated from this, the oldest university in continuous existence in Texas. For 176 years Baylor graduates have served church and state as doctors, lawyers, nurses, educators, mayors, legislators, pastors, social workers, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists, and through hundreds of other professions. When Texas hero Sam Houston became a Christian, he asked you — his friend and pastor — to baptize him. In our Baylor offices hangs a painting of that auspicious occasion, undertaken by Dallas artist Erwin Hearne, whose work often focused on Baptists and their quest for religious liberty in America. As we pray daily with our students, staff, faculty and parents beneath that painting, we are often aware of your presence. When the State of Texas honored you and Aunt Georgia with historical markers in 2009, we had the privilege to unveil those tributes.

(Wade Burleson writes): Uncle Rufus, I echo all that my two cousins have written. I and am grateful for your visionary leadership in establishing higher education in Texas, as well as your personal ministry to General Sam Houston. The State of Texas was right in honoring you and Aunt Georgia with historical markers in 2009, and my cousins were also right in unveiling those tributes. What’s happened during these last twelve years?

(Burt and Blake write): With you as our beacon, we were inspired to become Baptist pastors, chaplains, missionaries and educators. Today, we can see your statue through our office windows. When we preach from the Bible in Waco Hall’s chapel services and teach about it in Tidwell Bible Building classrooms, we are reminded that that book — proclaiming that God cares equally for all — is held in the hand of your statue in Burleson Quadrangle. We’ve drawn inspiration from you and Aunt Georgia for your commitment to the education of women. Thank you for admitting women to Baylor during a time when they were not even allowed to vote. Each day when we walk by Georgia Burleson Hall and read the words “Dedicated to Female Education and Piety” inscribed on the cornerstone, we are reminded to treat all of our students with dignity and equality.

(Wade Burleson writes): I, too, honor all that you did for women in education. Your understanding that leadership is based on gifting, not gender, and that women should be provided every educational opportunity afforded to men, though novel in your day, is now standard practice in our day. Thank you.

(Burt and Blake write): While no black student graduated from Baylor until 1968, long after you had left us (in 1901), we thought that you must have led the way in a campaign to lift African Americans out of an intellectual wasteland imposed on them by slavery since, after the Civil War, you rode on horseback all over Texas giving speeches to encourage towns to support free public education that included the children of newly freed slaves. And you helped raise money to establish Marshall-based Bishop College for African Americans in 1881. Bishop College provided many African Americans — whose parents and grandparents had been forbidden under slavery laws to even read the very Bible in your statue’s hand — with a post-secondary education. So, it is with profound sadness that we write you today — you who are now beyond the veil — having recently learned more about your time on our campus and your role in Texas politics after the Civil War.

(Wade Burleson writes): My cousins, Uncle Rufus, rightly acknowledge the effort you put into ensuring the educational opportunities for freed slaves. Though a product of your time, you rose above the prevailing prejudice and did all you could to assist our black brothers and sisters. Again, "Thank you!" I, too, have known of your role in Texas politics after the Civil War, but unlike my cousins, I am not as perturbed about politics in the 1860s and 1870s. As Washington Irving once said, "The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection; and will, in turn, be supplanted by his successor of tomorrow." 

(Burt and Black write):  We were born in the 1950s into a family and an East Texas city that held racist views about African Americans, views that we now know you intentionally and systematically helped to advance in Waco and beyond. As we grew into adults and read the Bible more carefully, we abandoned the racist views that we had been taught from family members, friends, neighbors, schoolteachers, pastors, business leaders and elected officials. Now we know that through your sermons, writings and public statements you helped to ensure that generations of African Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship. You carried your Bible with you as you traveled as chaplain for the Fifteenth Texas Infantry Regiment, Company B, during the Civil War. And you encouraged Baylor students and alumni to join the Confederacy in that bloody fight. More than 250 Baylor Bears heeded your call and joined the South’s campaign to keep human beings enslaved, presumably forever. And we now know that your efforts to raise money for Bishop College were done so that once black students were educated, they could be sent back to Africa! Furthermore, it is documented that you owned a slave, a man named Elias.

(Wade Burleson writes): I would ask that you forgive your nephews for their unintentional impertinence. George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. 17 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention owned a total of about 1,400 slaves. Of the first 12 U.S. presidents, eight were slave owners. These men are our nation's heroes. Do we do remove and hide the Constitution for the sins of our Founding Fathers? Do we demolish the Republic? Do we call for the overthrow of the Supreme Court? Yes, our Founding Fathers and our fathers made awful mistakes, but the system established by our Founding Fathers made the United States "The Land of Opportunity" for all people. Yes, Uncle Rufus, you fought a Civil War that ended slavery, and you were on the losing side (as an aside, I thank the Good Lord for that point). People ought to be taught your sins but to hold people today accountable for your sins of 170 years ago is an act being used by neo-Marxists to tear apart our country and remove our foundations. To divide and conquer is part of the art of war, and our enemies look on the United States with glee as they watch citizens seek to destroy the United States' culture and heritage.  My cousins mean well, but they don't see that when we "erase America's past," we "destroy America's future." Teach the past and learn from it. 

(Blake and Burt write): Forgive us, dear Uncle, but we must ask you how you could have used the Bible to humiliate and to subjugate fellow human beings. How could you promote the “Lost Cause” — the concept of divinely inspired white nationalism — once the war ended? Because of your revisionist history, we were taught in school in the 1970s that the war had nothing to do with slavery. We read in state-sanctioned textbooks that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights.” Regrettably, some schoolbooks in the South still indoctrinate our children with these lies. By your hand and others like you, millions of African Americans were held in educational, political and economic bondage for much of the 20th century. Forgive us, dear Uncle, but we must ask: How could you have read the same Bible as we read, yet preach what you did?

(Wade Burleson writes): Forgive me, dear Uncle, but I think I know the answer on how you could use the Bible to "subjugate fellow human beings" (eg 'condone slavery') and how you could promote the "Lost Cause." I don't mean to presume, but I think after the LORD called you home in death, He probably showed you the mistake you made in interpreting the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus Christ or the prophets call for "white" or "Jewish" supremacy. On the contrary, Jesus is "the Savior of the world," and the prophets remind us that the LORD declares: "Are you not all as children of the Ethiopians unto me. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?" (Amos 9:7). God establishes the boundaries of the nations, and all the nations are His. Racism is wrong, but America's national identity built on our shared values, culture, and pride in "God and country" is something we ought never to take for granted. I cannot - I will not - stand by as people attempt to destroy America and our political, religious, and educational institutions. Yes, Uncle Rufus, you made mistakes. But we have learned from those mistakes and made progress. I apologize to you for the errors being made by this generation. My hope is that we awake to our errors before it is too late.

(Blake and Burt write): Our hearts are heavy as we write what we now know to be a more complete truth about our family’s past. Perhaps we should have taken the time long ago to explore fully our history and Baylor’s history. We pray it’s not too late to make amends to our African American brothers and sisters and to all who have suffered from this sinful scourge of slavery, racism, segregation and discrimination.

(Wade Burleson writes:) Uncle Rufus, though my cousins mean well, please forgive them for not practicing Christian grace. If we removed the photograph of all our loved ones who have caused hurt in us and others, there would be no family photos left on the wall. Our generation is soft.  I'm concerned that soon the United States of America could be at war with outside enemies who want nothing more than to divide us from within before they seek to conquer us from without. I'm doing all I can to wake up the citizens of the United States before it's too late. Blessings, Uncle Rufus, and we Burleson cousins look forward to seeing you again and being as transparent about our sins as we are about yours.